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Blazers Fall Short Down Stretch, Drop Nail Biter to Nets

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The Trail Blazers fought the Nets tooth and nail, but they couldn’t generate enough buckets down the stretch to secure the win.

Brooklyn Nets v Portland Trail Blazers Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers put forth a valiant effort in their 116-112 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, but far too often lacked the one stop or shot to put themselves over the top. Despite balanced scoring with six players in double-figures and 19 3-pointers, the Blazers again fell short of securing a win.

The loss dropped the Blazers to 25-18 and into the No. 6 spot in the Western Conference. Portland will now enter Thursday’s game nursing a two-game losing streak. If you missed Dave Deckard’s instant recap, here’s a look at that.

The “Extra Pass” Determined Tonight’s Winner

It is ironic that in a matchup comprised of so many isolation specialists—including the NBA’s top two one-on-one scorers in James Harden and Damian Lillard—that so much of tonight’s offense centered around scoring in almost every other way until the very end.

Because of the night-to-night fear that Harden and Lillard generate, the defensive objective was often to send two defenders their way and force a pass away, or to send both defenders Lillard’s way on ball screens. The question then became: could Portland’s other players take advantage of 4-on-3 situations?

That scenario took center stage right at the end of the third quarter, when Portland relentlessly attempted to exploit that setup with backdoor cuts for Derrick Jones Jr. Seriously, you might have thought your TV was stuck on a loop. It isn’t surprising that Jones set a season-high in field goal attempts (14), Enes Kanter nearly tied his career-high in assists (6), and Lillard hoisted only 17 shots. The Blazers’ last offensive possession, down three, where Lillard passed out of the oncoming double served as a final reminder of the action that preceded it.

There were situations where both teams went into postseason mode, hunting matchups that created chances. There were traps and doubles aplenty. There’s a discussion to be had about the 54 3-point attempts in this contest, especially without certified knockdown shooters in Portland’s non-starting rotations.

Nightmare Mode: Transition Defense

The Blazers consistently leave observers longing for more out of half-court defensive sets. Those problems get further exacerbated when they fail to defend in both the half-court and in transition. Unfortunately for the Blazers, tonight was one of those nights where they couldn’t slow the Nets’ advance in either situation—leading to 24 fast-break points for Brooklyn.

For context, the NBA’s worst transition defense belongs to the Philadelphia 76ers. They allow 15.7 fast-break points per game. Far too often, James Harden was able to look ahead of the Blazers’ defense and loft passes that set up teammates for easy scores early in the shot clock. It could be Portland’s scheme, but the lack of effort also needs to be mentioned. It feels especially problematic given that Portland doesn’t have a ton of reputable guys crashing the offensive glass, save for Enes Kanter, which means it could be difficult to search for an excuse for that lack of resistance.

As the Blazers digest the film of tonight’s loss, that should be among the things to shore up. On the year, Portland ranks as the sixth-worst in transition points allowed.

Enes Kanter’s Marquee Night

For all of the negatives that come with another loss filled with missed opportunities, there are always a few aspects that stand out as positives. In tonight’s game, Enes Kanter fits that bill. Limited to an eight-man rotation and only one true big man, Kanter led the Blazers in minutes played (39) and stuffed the stat sheet along the way. He flirted with a triple-double with 19 points, 19 rebounds, and six assists on a 6-of-8 shooting performance from the field.

As noted in the first takeaway, a lot of what was done through his passing came via the extr pressure that was sent Lillard’s way. But Kanter’s as independent as they come. He marauded the glass with vigor and snagged 10 offensive rebounds—one short of the team record.

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Box Score

The Blazers get back to action on Thursday against the Heat in Miami.